After weeks of slow leaks and rumors, Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) has finally announced a tablet computer. Should Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) be quaking in its boots as the RIM PlayBook moves in to kill the iPad?
Kill the iPad?
In a word, no. The two devices appear to be aimed at very different target markets. The iPad is largely a toy -- a very capable toy with a large assortment of productivity tools available for download, but still designed mostly to titillate and entertain. The PlayBook comes with BlackBerry-style security and business tools built in; it is also smaller and more likely to find its way into double-breasted business suit pockets.
Besides, the PlayBook is scheduled to be available in "early 2011," which makes today's announcement nothing more than a paper launch. The iPad's head start grows larger day by day, and that first-mover advantage is very important in a trend-sensitive market like this new tablet computer craze.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab stands a greater chance of making an impact on the iPad's dominance by dint of launching earlier with a comparable feature list. But then, that tablet runs the Android operating system, placing it squarely in between the work-oriented BlackBerry demographic and the leisurely Apple gang. There's no telling whether that distinction will make the Galaxy Tab a threat to both of those camps or neither one.
What's inside the black box?
Still, it's safe to assume that CrackBerry addicts will storm in to snatch up their PlayBooks at launch, and there's still a good number of them running around. The device will sport a 7-inch screen with front-and-back video cameras and a very capable video subsystem. An unspecified dual-core processor running at 1GHz makes this a heavyweight in terms of raw power. But I think we can figure out who makes that processor.
Dual-core ARM chips slated to be available before the launch date include an updated Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM ) SnapDragon chipset, the NVIDIA (Nasdaq: NVDA ) Tegra 2, a new Texas Instruments chip, and a respun Samsung Hummingbird. Longtime RIM favorite Marvell (Nasdaq: MRVL ) hasn't exactly announced a dual-core processor (it recently announced a tri-core Armada chip), but certainly has the technology for it and may have given RIM samples before spilling the beans to the public.
These are all very capable choices, but Marvell and RIM have history together that makes some version of the Armada line the logical pick. If I wanted to buy a chipmaker based on the PlayBook selling like hot grits, Marvell would be my first choice with Qualcomm perhaps playing second string.
All work and no play ...
The iPad was clearly on RIM's mind as it designed this tablet: The press release takes a nice, oblique swipe at Apple: "The BlackBerry PlayBook solidly hits the mark with industry leading power, true multitasking, uncompromised web browsing and high performance multimedia," says co-CEO Mike Lazardis [emphasis mine].
If Apple ever decides to invite Adobe Systems (Nasdaq: ADBE ) and its Flash multimedia framework to the iPhone and iPad parties, we'd see a lot less of these "uncompromised web browsing" remarks from the competition. But make no mistake, RIM knows who butters its bread. A name like "PlayBook" may sound whimsical, but football is serious business, too.
This device is "Perfect for either large organizations or an 'army of one'," and features include both "advanced security" and "out-of-the-box enterprise support." The darn thing shares the fundamentals of its operating system with the largest routers Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO ) sells, thanks to RIM's purchase of QNX this spring. If all of that doesn't add up to a serious focus on business-class users, I don't know what does.
Where do I go now?
It'll take a lot of tablets to move the needle for RIM, but this product launch would be a very significant revenue driver and general business catalyst for Marvell if I'm right about the processor supply chain. The company has not had a lot of luck selling high-end processors in real volume, but this could be the product that finally kick-starts the Marvell Armada invasion.
Do you see any other way to invest in this device launch without exposing yourself to the dwindling importance of BlackBerry smartphones? Feel free to share your insights in the comments below.